On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County.
Brody, Ashbey and Skillman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.
The trial court, sua sponte, dismissed the complaints for adoption in these consolidated appeals, holding that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because in each case the plaintiffs are nonresidents of this State. We now reverse and hold that the Legislature has given the Superior Court jurisdiction to grant adoptions to nonresidents if the child was placed with them by an adoption agency approved by the New Jersey Department of Human Services (hereinafter referred to as an approved agency).
None of the plaintiffs resides in this State. Most reside in Pennsylvania where the Golden Cradle Adoption Agency, the approved agency, had its offices before moving from Philadelphia to Camden. Our analysis does not require an elaboration of these basic facts.
To begin with, the issue before us is not whether the Superior Court may exercise its authority over parties not summoned before it in accordance with due process. See International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S. Ct. 154, 158, 90 L. Ed. 95, 102 (1945). The parties here have submitted to the in personam jurisdiction of the Court. Rather, the issue is whether the Superior Court has the authority to grant adoptions to plaintiffs who are nonresidents but who received the child to be adopted from an approved agency.
The power of a court to deal with the subject matter of a case "rests solely upon its having been clothed with such power by the constitution or by valid legislative enactment." Petersen v.
Falzarano, 6 N.J. 447, 454 (1951). The power to grant adoptions is of statutory origin. In re Flasch, 51 N.J. Super. 1, 15 (App.Div.1958), certif. den., 28 N.J. 35 (1958). We therefore look to the Adoption Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 9:3-37 et seq., to determine whether the Legislature has given the Superior Court the power to grant adoptions to nonresident prospective parents.
The Act does not explicitly provide that plaintiffs in adoption actions may be nonresidents. However, it may fairly be inferred from its provisions that the Act empowers the Superior Court to grant adoptions to nonresident prospective parents, provided they received the child from an approved agency.
The Act establishes two kinds of adoption actions depending upon whether the prospective parents received the child from an approved agency.
Where the child has been received from an approved agency, the action is brought under N.J.S.A. 9:3-47. If the approved agency files a favorable report and the court is satisfied that the best interests of the child will be served by the adoption, the court must enter a judgment of adoption. If the approved agency does not consent to the adoption, the Act gives it standing "to appear at the hearing and contest the adoption." N.J.S.A. 9:3-47b. There is no provision in the Act for dismissal of an action brought under N.J.S.A. 9:3-47 for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Where the child has not been received from an approved agency, the action is brought under N.J.S.A. 9:3-48. The court must immediately declare the child a ward of the court and appoint an approved agency to make an investigation. The court must also schedule a preliminary hearing to be held after the agency files its report and no later than three months after the action was commenced. Among the matters to be considered at the preliminary hearing is whether the court has subject-matter jurisdiction to proceed. "If in the course of the preliminary hearing the court shall determine ...